Friday, April 08, 2011

Flashback Friday: Government Shutdown of 1995

Today is the deadline for the federal budget to be determined between the Democratic White House and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. If no deal is made, the government will be shut down, which happened in 1995 with the last Democratic president. This showdown is like "deja vu all over again" (a phrase coined by Yogi Berra). Why don't we ever see the government get shut down when a Democratic-controlled Congress disagrees with the Republican White House? The answer should be obvious to anyone with a brain (which teabaggers aren't known to possess). Republicans HATE government (but LOVE corporations) and Democrats love government. The rhetoric from right wing radio about the evils of government and how America would be better off with no government has been able to con many "low information" folks into believing it, even if many of them are dependent on Social Security, Medicare / Medicaid, or other government assistance.

People (such as that anti-government ranting church member I've had many debates with on Facebook until he de-friended me because I would not play his game of citing documented evidence about why marijuana was bad for one's mental and physical health) generally seem to be ignorant about how deeply ingrained government is in our lives. This has nothing to do with totalitarian control of the masses, but is for the maintenance of living in a civilized society. In our world, there are many examples of different types of government, ranging from the best forms (New Zealand and the Scandinavian countries rank high) to the worst (North Korea, Burma, Zimbabwe come to mind). But if you want to see an example of society without a functioning government, there's only one country that comes to mind: Somalia, which is ruled by various warlords and their child soldiers who are hooked on drugs and carry out some of the most vicious forms of violence imaginable. It is a true state of terror, where justice does not prevail because the people with the guns determine "the law" and if you don't like it, you can either be killed, raped, beat, or ignored and no system of addressing grievances exists to help you find justice. Is that the kind of country teabaggers aspire to?

In 1995, our government experienced the first ever shutdown that I had heard of (I don't know if it had ever been done before, but certainly not in my lifetime). I was in the Navy at the time, stationed in Norfolk, Virginia on the USS George Washington, an aircraft carrier. I remember being concerned with the news because there was talk that we would not be paid. I even joked with my supervisor, the Admin Officer, that if we weren't getting paid, then I wasn't going to work. He assured me, though, that no matter what happened, the military would get their pay.

Sure enough, during the three weeks of the shut down, I did not experience any pay issues. However, the shut-down did cause one of the most incredible ironies in our political history. Though Clinton masterfully handled the shut-down and the Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich, were blamed for it, the government shutdown of 1995 was how a certain young, naive and starry-eyed White House intern named Monica Lewinsky had closer access to the president. Most of the employees in the Executive Office of the President had to take a mandatory furlough during the period of the shutdown, with only key staffers still working. The unpaid interns filled in with the regular duties that were performed by the furloughed staffers.

According to the infamous Starr Report, Monica got to deliver a slice of pizza to President Clinton during this time and she was bold enough to flash him a glimpse of her thong underwear. With less staff around, they were able to sneak away so she could "earn her presidential knee pads" (as she had supposedly told college friends when she was accepted for a White House internship). So, while Congressman Newt Gingrich lost ground in the court of public opinion about the budget crisis, President Clinton's appetite for self-destructive sexual immorality gave Gingrich a gift that would be overplayed in 1998. Even more ironic, while Gingrich hit the campaign trail in 1998 to make that year's mid-terms a referendum on the president's sex scandal, the Speaker of the House was cheating on his second wife with a lobbyist who eventually became his third wife.

What ultimately did Gingrich in on the budget showdown was that he had explained to the press that the reason why he did not agree to a deal and forced the government to shut down was because he was "forced to sit in the back of Air Force One." Shortly after he made this claim, the White House press office released photos of Newt Gingrich and other Republicans meeting with the President in a conference room on Air Force One. Newt was caught in a lie (what else was new?). His credibility was tarnished. The extremism of the Gingrich Congress helped center Clinton and glide him to an easy victory over the hapless Bob Dole.

With the current Boehner Congress, a part of me wonders if their desire to repeat the Gingrich years is the secret hope that by shutting down the government, another sex-crazed White House intern will have greater access to the president, and thus a potential for another distracting sex scandal in which to impeach the president and remove him from office. Whatever their agenda, I think this possibility is remote. Obama strikes me as a man with a mission. He knows that he can't afford to mess up, because he has an entire race dependent upon him to make them proud to include him among Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Frederick Douglass, and Booker T. Washington as icons in Black History. He's probably all too aware of the racist stereotype of the over-sexual black man (our history is littered with the paranoia of black men ravishing white women). So, if Obama does face any temptation, I have full confidence that he knows how to say no. Besides, his wife Michelle strikes me as someone who would leave in a heartbeat if Obama embarrassed her the way Clinton did to his wife. Obama Girl might be amusing to the President, but he likely keeps his eyes on the prize. He wants a successful presidency and to change the culture of our country away from the ridiculous cultural wars.

Above is a picture I found online of typical teabagger protests. Whenever I read about this group of amnesiatic morons, I keep asking myself, "Where the hell were these people when Bush squandered the Clinton surplus?" There was no outcry on the right when Bush ran up deficits and launched two wars on credit, while giving Americans a pay cut. I was concerned about the deficit then, but conservatives I talked to seemed to follow Vice President Dick Cheney's line of logic: "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter." Well, that's not true. In the small minds of a teabagger, deficits don't matter when a Republican runs it up, but when a black man is at the helm, then hell no! If we were living under a John McCain presidency (or perhaps by this point, he would've croaked and we would have President Palin), I bet we would have never even heard about the teabaggers. They formed in protest to Tax Day in 2009, within Obama's First 100 Days as President.

What does shutting down the government mean? Well, its not just closing the government from doing anything. The ripple effect includes federal employees not getting paid for however long it goes on, which means bills don't paid. Many employees have rent to pay in pricey D.C., families to provide for, children to feed. Some of the jobs they do include processing passports, medicare / medicaid / social security claims, home loans, small business loans, and income taxes. It means the military members fighting in the wars that the teabaggers supported will not get their pay. And because the economy is dependent upon money being circulated, there are people whose livelihood depends upon employees buying their hot lunches from food carts, cafes, restaurants, food courts, and cafeterias all over the District of Columbia (as well as every city in America where the federal government has employees). In the U.S. Capitol building, there are shoe shiners and gift shop employees who depend upon the money that employees pay for their services. The shutdown also affects tourists, with April being a huge month for visitors due to the Cherry Blossom festival. Shutting down the government means that National Park Services-run monuments and parks will be closed. What a great way to promote patriotism, telling tourists to go home instead of making the pilgrimage to see the great monuments, memorials, and museums of our nation's capital.

The more I learn about the teabaggers, the more I despise them and their ignorance. The few teabaggers I knew on Facebook have de-friended me awhile ago, which didn't bother me much. They live in a fantasy world that has little resemblance to reality. What bothers me most, though, is their inability to admit the truth. If you can't be honest with me, then there's really nothing left to discuss. I know its a pride issue with them, but with me, I don't care about who's right or wrong so much as I care about knowing that the person I'm talking to has a grasp of reality. That teabaggers can't bring themselves to admit that their beloved President George W. Bush was bad for our country is a huge strike against their credibility. It was their blind obedience to the Boy King that led our country to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression (I have a feeling that history books of the future will refer to the events of 2001-2010 as "The Great Recession"). The fact that they kept silent during the most outrageous presidential administration of our lifetime says a lot about them. Until they can admit that Bush was a disaster for our country, they deserve to be ignored and marginalized. Acknowledging the truth means we can move beyond that and work to fix those problems.

Yet, this budget showdown appears to have boiled down to two things: the Republicans want to cut funds for Planned Parenthood and women's health programs. They objected to steeper cuts in the military. To Republicans, they want to keep the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, which adds to the deficit, while they want to cut funding for NPR and PBS, which is the equivalent of a billionaire deciding not to buy a latte every morning to "save money." Ridiculous. Its obviously an agenda based on the cultural wars, not on any real desire to balance the budget.

If I were President Obama, I would call the Republicans on the carpet and give them a serious talking to. He already caved on their demand to keep the Bush tax cuts in place through 2012. Why must the Democrats always meet the Republicans more than half-way? The Bush tax cuts were bad for our economy, so if the Democrats are going to compromise on that, the Republicans need to concede on some cuts that they claim is off the table. The older I get, the more I hate the Republican Party and everything they stand for. Liberals and progressives need to ask conservatives: "Why does the Republican Party hate America so much?" This political party has done more damage to America in the past forty years than Al Qaeda and all the dictators of the Middle East combined. They are the greatest threat to American democracy because their vision of the country is a tiny wealthy elite with a large class of low wage slaves, deeply in debt and ignorant. I hope American voters remember in 2012 just how abusive the Republican Party is when they are entrusted with any form of power. When one abuses power time and again, they should not be trusted for at least a generation, and only after they've proven that they've changed, should they be allowed some minor forms of power to test their credibility. Never again, though. These Republicans need to be voted out of office in 2012. Make them extinct so the rest of us can thrive in a new prosperity.

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